Six Degrees of Separation – Help Your College Age Student Help Themselves

College is a period of transition for your student and your family. Parents can help by being supportive, trusting, AND encourage independence. Here are six ways to help your student help themselves.

1) First Weeks: Filled with activities your student needs to take advantage of those opportunities in order to become connected – a member of their new community. “The phone call” may come when work is piling up, grades aren’t as expected, or they are struggling with some other issue feeling overwhelmed, unable to cope. Don’t panic; this is normal. As much as you’d like to alleviate the stress, you can not (and should not) “fix this” for them. Be calm, reassuring about their ability to work through the challenges or to seek help from the campus resources.

2) Change: Accept that you won’t know every detail of your student’s life. Your student may never have lived away from you before and going to college is an exciting, important step in their growth. The values you have instilled, along with their new campus values, will help your student make good choices.

3) Problems: Managing issues within a complex organization is a vital part of becoming a competent adult. Empower your student to solve problems by offering guidance, encouraging independence, and trusting their decisions. Handling difficult situations for them only impedes their development. They are learning important skills and your student is empowered to undertake other challenges with confidence. “That’s interesting, how do you think it could be handled?” Since students can and do resolve most of their own concerns, parental involvement is usually not necessary and in some cases complicates resolution.

4) Personalities: Learning to live with other people teaches essential skills like communication and boundary setting. Your student is living in an environment where the staff understands the developmental process and transitional issues experienced by college students. Challenge your student to actively work through issues, instead of avoiding them or looking for easy answers. Changing roommates (or dropping a class) is often not the only or best solution. Helping your student seek alternative solutions will enhance their learning.

5) Responsibilities: Many come to college with preconceived ideas of campus conduct, regulations, and the law based on media accounts, someone’s memories or assumptions. Every university has rules. Students will be informed and helped to understand that they are responsible for their conduct. Rules are designed to protect their rights as well as providing for the health, safety, and security needs of all residents and the opportunity to sleep, study, and pursue their academic endeavors.

6) Academic Life: Your students are now masters of their own time. Ask how they plan on balancing this new freedom. You want them to have fun and you want them to succeed socially and academically. A temporary drop in grades is typical. Don’t let your student get discouraged; instead encourage them to get help or refocus. Tutoring, study workshops, and other academic support is readily available for students. Open communication with professors about expectations and struggles can also be a valuable step in success. Students who seek assistance from the various campus resources typically get back on track and do fine.

Parents, now is the time to let go. Your student will know that you are there and will come to you when they really need you. You’ve given them the roots to grow, now give them the wings to fly.